Five Years Later: Core Teacher Haitham Reflects on His Journey at TYO

Several years ago, after graduating from An-Najah National University with a degree in sports, I started to plan for my future- and I decided to be an independent and productive person. I made this choice because I was the oldest son in my family, which meant I was responsible for helping my relatives. At the time, the unemployment rate was high in Nablus, and opportunities for success seemed nonexistent.Yet that didn’t stop me from volunteering at TYO in the sports class- which soon turned into the chance to officially join the team in 2008 as a Core Program teacher. Haitham leads his class into the TYO event.

For five years, I’ve worked to both improve myself as a professional, and improve my community- which makes me very proud! I have turned my passion for helping children into a profession, and gained a deep understanding of the importance of early childhood development. Daily, my work combines both education and life skills- as a sports teacher, I instruct kids about athletics, and also equip them psychosocially.

In the beginning, this job presented a challenge for me: in Palestine, women are expected to work in the education or social services sector. I would surprise parents when they learned their child’s teacher is a male- especially if they preferred a female. Yet this situation gave me two different options: I could forget about the job or accept the challenge.

I accepted the challenge. I decided to continue on this field, and grow as a teacher in the Core Program. Over the years, I have been able to participate in many trainings, and meetings with early childhood development specialists. I am constantly reading online for new developments in this field, and I regularly develop curriculum that combines sports with a psychosocial approach.

Working at TYO for five years has been an incredible privilege- this experience is very different for the Middle East, as I regularly get to know many special, highly professional individuals from the United States. This cultural exchange not only benefits me, but I am also able to pass it along to the kids that I teach. Equally, as my students talk about TYO, I realize how the sport class is impacting their lives. For example, one of the children in my sport class described an activity with a parachute as “the first time that I feel I’m getting in a balloon to view all of Palestine.” This helped me see how TYO gives children a safe place to play, and express themselves in a new way.

After five years of hard work, I can clearly see that TYO has developed from a small idea to an in important institution at both the local and international level. It is one of the most successful projects in the Middle East, and I know that TYO is headed in the direction of reaching many more disadvantaged kids around the world.

Haitham Okeh is a Core Child Program teacher at TYO. Above, he reflects on his journey with TYO since it's early days, and discusses how it has shaped him both personally and professionally.